Through six games this season, the Detroit Lions rank second in the league in completion percentage, sitting behind only the New England Patriots. The current mark of 68.9 percent would be a career-high completion rate for Matthew Stafford, who has averaged a 61.3 percent total over the course of his career. His 67.2 percent mark in 2015 was the highest to date, so perhaps this trend is not coming out of nowhere.
When Jim Bob Cooter took over as the offensive coordinator halfway through last season, Stafford really began to flourish. His completion percentage jumped from 65 percent before the switch to 69 percent, and he averaged a 78 percent rate during his final three games. This trend has continued into 2016, as Stafford has been above his career average on four of six occasions. Simply put, few quarterbacks have been more on target in recent weeks.
Not just dink-and-dunk
The biggest counter-argument to this fact is to claim that Stafford is simply throwing shorter passes more frequently which is boosting his stats. While the Lions have found success on screens and quick routes, this claim is generally not true. Stafford is averaging 7.8 yards per attempt this season which ranks eighth in the NFL. This figure is also above his career average of 7.1 yards.
Again, the new offense under Cooter has something to do with this. Before his installment last season, the Stafford averaged just 7.1 yards per attempt. During the second half of the season, this number rose to 7.3 yards per attempt, including 8.4 yards per attempt during the last three games.
The most impressive part about Stafford’s accuracy, however, is that he has maintained such a high mark despite dealing with a surprisingly-high drop rate. The Lions’ pass catchers have dropped 15 targets already this season, putting them at a 7.3 percent clip. This leads the league by almost two percentage points.
Last season, the Lions were the fifth-best team in the league, sitting at 2.7 percent. The year before that they ranked 13th, which came a season after leading the NFL at 7.1 percent in 2013. So while Stafford is completing passes at the highest rate in his career, he is doing so while dealing with an inflated drop rate from his receivers.
The biggest culprits have been Marvin Jones, Anquan Boldin, Golden Tate and Eric Ebron, who each have a drop rate of at least seven percent; Theo Riddick and Justin Forsett have contributed to the group’s overall poor total. Struggles like this were not expected for Jones, Boldin or Tate, as all three players had a drop rate under 2.5 percent last season. And while Ebron gets a lot of negative attention for his hands, he had been trending in the right direction.
The drop issue seems more mental than anything physical, so it would be surprising to see the drop rate stay this high. If the Lions’ pass catchers can find a way to limit these mistakes, the sky could be the limit for Stafford. If even half of those drops had been caught, he would easily be sitting atop the leaderboard in completion percentage right now.
Drops are annoying, but the takeaways should be all positive for Stafford so far this season. Never has he been more accurate, and he is doing so while still throwing the ball downfield. If his guys can offer him a little more help when bringing in passes, Stafford will only continue to put up some impressive numbers as the year goes on.